Teacher's Dirty Looks?

January 13, 1994

The forces that refuse to rest until Stuart D. Berger is fired as Baltimore County school superintendent will ride any horse they can find to reach their goal, no matter how lame or misguided the steed.

The critics' latest damnation of Dr. Berger? That the superintendent disciplined a male teacher who was sexually harassing another teacher, a female, in school.

Here's the story: Ken Shapiro, an elementary school guidance counselor, was admittedly having an extramarital affair with another married teacher. When his partner wanted to end the relationship, Mr. Shapiro persisted. He had a student deliver a sealed love letter to her. He stared at her throughout a faculty meeting. He also told her in a school hallway he loved her. A passerby who overheard complained to the principal, who had already warned Mr. Shapiro about mixing his personal and professional lives. Dr. Berger suspended Mr. Shapiro for a month without pay. A hearing examiner later voided the suspension on a technicality; the teacher was reassigned to another school and awarded back pay.

One might think this would be the end of the story. In fractious Baltimore County, of course not. Mr. Shapiro, who as a leader of the county teachers' union has been an opponent of Dr. Berger, wants to "clear his name." He has friends in high places, namely morning talk show host Allan Prell at WBAL-AM Radio, who afforded Mr. Shapiro a long interview about his travails this week. WBAL's shameful role in fomenting discord in the school system for ratings is another topic, but station General Manager Jeff Beauchamp has already stated unequivocally, after he dumped local commentary for Rush Limbaugh, that he's running a business, not the conscience of the community.

As for Mr. Shapiro's case, Dr. Berger's punishment may have been heavy. But we suspect most parents and teachers, having seen the turmoil in Anne Arundel County and elsewhere over schools and sex, are fed up with teachers who cannot show greater restraint of their libidinal urges.

We have no problem with Mr. Shapiro being a critic of the schools. In fact, Dr. Berger tends to get wrapped up in the criticisms, probably spending too much time looking for enemy fire instead of moving forward for the sake of the system. But if some of his critics believe it heavy-handed that he punished a teacher whose relationships spilled over into the school day, they are missing the point.

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